Ladies and gentlemen, the draft season is in full swing – the bowl games are completed, and the best of the class are in Indianapolis performing before the largest group of scouts and analysts they will see until the big day(s) are here. The importance of these events is shown every year, as the Senior Bowl and Combine routinely make some players a lot of money come draft day, while sending others on a slide down draft boards. In last year’s Pre-Combine Big Board, 22 of the first 32 players I had ranked became first round picks, while another four between 33-50 also made the first round. That means six different players used this process we are in the middle of to move their names up draft boards, and some made immediate impacts in the NFL (Kyle Fuller – 4 interceptions, the most notable). So while many of the names you see in the rankings will hear their names called early on Day 1, take each with a grain of salt, because it only takes one poor workout to see a name begin to fall.
Senior Bowl Winners & Losers
Winner(s): The running back class
My biggest takeaway from this year’s Senior Bowl is that this running back class is even deeper and more stocked than previously anticipated. We already knew about the top-level guys in Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman, and Duke Johnson, all of whom likely go in the late first or second round. Well, add a large group of names to the mid-round consideration pool. David Cobb (Minnesota), Cameron Artis-Payne (Auburn), and David Johnson (Northern Iowa) all played excellent games, Ameer Abdullah saw his potentially shaky second-round stock solidify after an MVP performance, and even fullback Tyler Varga out of Yale made an impression in the game. This running back class should not only buck the recent trend of no players going in the first round, but also provide almost any team that needs one a quality starter or back-up that can play immediately.
Winner: Phillip Dorsett, Miami
If you have any doubts that receivers who predicate their game on speed will not make it big in the league, I ask that you research Mike Wallace’s contract and Marquise Goodwin’s draft position. Granted, Goodwin wasn’t a first round pick, but his stock did jump after he turned in a 4.27 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine. Speed receivers get drafted and a chance to contribute; speed receivers who find early success get paid big money on their second contract. Dorsett is this year’s speed receiver, and he has a real chance to go the Mike Wallace route – making the most of his playing time until he gets a chance to start every week for a team. Winning the Wide Receiver Practice Player of the Week helped him get on every team’s radar and into early-round consideration.
Winner: Carl Davis, DT, Iowa
I will let Davis be a representative of Washington’s Danny Shelton as well, because Shelton was already an early-first round pick, so he was already a winner before he arrived in Mobile. Davis, though not at Shelton’s level, came out of Mobile as the biggest individual winner. He was the Most Outstanding Practice Player of the Week, and has climbed from a guy who could have gone anywhere in the third or fourth or even fifth rounds to a guy who will need to be paying attention towards the end of round one. I see one or two prospects every year climb up the ladder and into the first round largely because of their Senior Bowl performance, and Davis is currently my tab for this year’s example.
Winner: Kevin White, CB, TCU
Kevin White had himself a week in Mobile. Not only was he named the Practice Player of the Week for defensive backs, but he also managed to pick off North quarterback Bryce Petty during the game as well. White is shaping himself up to be a solid Day 3 selection for some team looking for a plug-and-play member of the secondary, anywhere from corner to nickel to dimeback.
Winner: Clive Walford, TE, Miami (FL)
Walford is a winner because of two reasons. The first is the level he performed at the Senior Bowl. He outshone the other tight ends in attendance, which is especially good timing because of the second reason: this tight end class is historically shallow. Had Maxx Williams not declared, there would not have been a single first-round prospect at the position, and possibly not even a second-rounder. Walford has played well enough to solidify his title of “Consensus #2 TE” of the class, which means that as soon as Williams goes (likely within the end of the first to middle of the second), Walford is the next man up. At a position where the talent drops off after the first and second prospects are gone, a team may be tempted to pull the trigger on Walford to ensure they get a tight end, even if it is higher than he should go.
Loser: Brett Hundley, UCLA
I question the decisions of prospects to decline an invite to the Senior Bowl, especially those in Hundley’s situation. Hundley was the consensus “Top Guy Available” after Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston are off the board, and a good performance in Mobile could have persuaded some team to move around to get him in the first round. Instead, skipping the bowl allowed Garrett Grayson and Bryce Petty a chance to close the gap on Hundley, and took away one of Hundley’s last good chances to showcase his abilities to all 32 teams. His chances of going in the first round are still very much alive, but he won’t have a good Senior Bowl performance to fall back on now if his lead-up to the draft is less than stellar.
Loser(s): The QB’s
Brett Hundley was not the only quarterback to whiff on a major opportunity at the Senior Bowl. With the absence of Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, and Hundley’s decision not to participate, the door was open for one or two of the quarterbacks in attendance to make a competing case with Hundley to QB-needy teams. In Hundley’s “Loser” section, I said Grayson and Petty had a chance to close the gap on Hundley, but they, along with the other quarterbacks, missed that opportunity. I once thought this class had a lot of potential, but my hopes have been dimmed by the Senior Bowl. A strong Combine is vital for many of these quarterbacks to be drafted with any hope of seeing substantial playing time.
Loser: Tony Lippett, WR, Michigan State
Lippett becomes a bigger loser to me than most because I had him ranked fairly high on my board. It’s not that Lippett had a bad week, it’s that other receivers had much better weeks than he did. He was also kept quiet during the game, catching only one ball for seven yards. He has a chance at the Combine to return the favor and outshine guys like Dezmin Lewis and Tyler Lockett, but Lippett has dropped down a tier and is now competing for to be drafted in the later rounds, rather than the middle.
Loser: T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pittsburgh
Going into the Senior Bowl, Clemmings was a mid-first round pick in many eyes, showing large amounts of potential as a starting tackle. It’s a good thing that potential was and still is there, because Clemmings proved he will need some work upon being drafted. He hasn’t fallen out of the first round completely yet, but he’ll need to perform well in Indianapolis to get back up to where he was in projections.
Loser: The running back class
Wait, didn’t I write the same thing as my first winner from the Senior Bowl? Yes, because where there are winners, there must also be losers. The rise of so many mid-round running backs means that some have to be pushed down in the draft. It is just the nature of today’s game – running the ball isn’t as important as passing, so running backs get drafted later. While many teams in the league could use a quality back-up from this class, many were already going to wait until Day 3 to get one, so while some Senior Bowl standouts will get drafted at spots where they weren’t previously considered, that means other members of the class could eventually go undrafted, and need to sign as free agents to get a shot at playing time that they had before the Senior Bowl began.
Pre-Combine Big Board (Does not take into account any performances or interviews at the NFL Combine)
1. Leonard Williams, DL, USC
2. Dante Fowler Jr., DE, Florida
3. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
4. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
5. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
6. Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
7. Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska
8. La’el Collins, OL, LSU
9. Brandon Schreff, OL, Iowa
10. Danny Shelton, DT, Washington
11. Kevin White, WR, WVU
12. Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
13. Shaq Thompson, LB/RB/S, Washington
14. DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
15. Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
16. Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson
17. Alvin “Bud” Dupree, DE/OLB, Kentucky
18. Arik Armstead, DL, Oregon
19. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
20. Malcom Brown, DT, Texas
21. Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
22. Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami (FL)
23. Devin Funchess, WR/TE, Michigan
24. Benardrick McKinney, ILB, Mississippi State
25. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri/Oklahoma
26. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
27. Denzel Perryman, ILB, Miami (FL)
28. T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pittsburgh
29. Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
30. Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn
31. Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest
32. Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
33. Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota
34. Eli Harold, DE/OLB, Virginia
35. Cameron Erving, OL, Florida State
36. P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State
37. Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA
38. Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
39. Jalen Collins, CB, LSU
40. Nate Orchard, OLB, Utah
41. Gerod Holliman, S, Louisville
42. Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State
43. Nelson Agholor, WR, USC
44. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama
45. Hau’oli Kikaha, DE, Washington
46. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
47. Carl Davis, DT, Iowa
48. Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma
49. Quinten Rollins, CB, Miami (OH)
50. A.J. Cann, OG, South Carolina